A LITTLE PIECE OF PAPER

Coming home from work the same day, I noticed from a distance some sort of notice, an advertisement on the glass entrance door. I don't usually remark them in corridors and on bulletin boards. But this one seemed to grab you by the shirtsleeve. The whiteness of the paper hovered in the air from a distance, and the large letters caught the eye: REPAIRS. In addition, it was there, right of front of your nose, and a man had to almost touch the paper as he reached to push the door open. REPAIRS. One more struggling to make some dough, I thought and wanted to pass by, when it seemed that it said underneath: ... all types of electrical devices... Oho, a colleague of mine moonlighter! I stopped and took a step backwards. Yes: ... electronically devices, radio sets, TV sets. Inquire... for electro engineer... Oho, nothing less than an engineer!... in the Fifth... God! It's unbelievable! I let go of the door and it closed ajar once more together with the ad. Then I read word by word: fourteenth floor, at Vasilije Simonovich's. I stood there a while, I stood there, stared at the paper, then I suddenly was grasped whit desire to tear it down and rip it to pieces. I gave the metal doorframe a hard kick. The door jumped, the ad seemed to flicker. I ran inside. I threw my briefcase on the bed, convulsively clutching the bundle of keys in my hand. Then I quickly unlocked my dresser and went through the suits and shirts hanging there. I took some money from the inside pocket of an old jacket. I counted: five, ten, fifteen, twenty. I halted. Then I quickly took another note of five thousand. It should be enough, I thought, and put the rest of the money back. I crammed twenty-five thousand in my pocket and ran outside.

I rang twice impatiently at Pavle's door, then twice again. Inside I heard somebody slowly fumbling with the keys, unlocking the door. It opened. Oh, it's you! Hi! Pavle smiled at me.

Pavle, how much do you need? I asked pan tingly.

He looked at me in wonder.

How much money do you need to borrow? I ask again.

Pavle laughed out loud. Come in! he said to me. Do come in!

We went into Pavle's room.

I just got here! Pavle said calmly, took his coat from the chair and put it into the dresser. Then he took a letter off the small table, turned it over, and said: It's from my sister.

I was silent.

Pavle looked at me, then said matter-of-factly: I don't need any loan, buddy. Thanks a lot, thank! and he gave me a smile.

I, well...

You saw the ad! Pavle said again calmly, then smiled once more. I just put them up. What can you do, it's got to be done! and he threw up his arms. But I don't need a thing! he added seriously and shook his head.

I, well... if you need any...

I know! Pavle interrupted me gently. Thanks! he said slowly. Set down!

I set down.

Standing, he was turning the letter in his hands, then he opened it. He read it.

My sister lives in Sarajevo. Her husband, two children and his mother, and one salary! he said, not lifting his eyes from the letter, showing me that as host he had not forgotten my presence. My sister's still at the university, you know? he looked at me.

I nodded my head.

Then Pavle finished the page and opened the next one. A little piece of paper fell out and fluttered through the air. Pavle picked it up off the floor. He examined it, then read. He looked at me and silently handed it to me. It contained large, uneven, incorrectly printed letters, in pencil, saying just this:

I read it, looked at it, and couldn't take my eyes off that paper. It trembled in my hand. The crooked letters twinkled, and yet remained mute, dead. And no one had to see them, I knew. Not even these letters! They started to fog over. My eyes filled with tears.

The older one. He'll be five soon, I heard Pavle's voice.

I jumped up from the chair and turned towards the window, blinking and blinking to painfully hold back the tears. E, Shooshoo, I thought, and wanted to suppress my tears. My hand convulsively clutched the money in my pocket.

Silence.

We stayed like that for a while, in silence.

Then I slowly turned around. Pavle was standing in the same place. He was serious, with a hard expression on his face, but without the slightest movement, petrified. I anxiously awaited his next move, his next words. My eyes were wide open, I had turned completely into expectation and anxiety. Pavle remained silent a while longer, still hard, petrified, then finally uttered in a rasping voice.

Do give me ten thousand though! and not a line on his face moved.

I sighed with relief. I laughed. Almost wanted to yell with happiness, and quickly gave him two notes of five thousand.

Behind us, through the wide window, the huge blueness of sky was stretching without limits and without end. Way down below, in the abyss, the life teemed, people appeared, passed by each other, and then disappeared again, as inaudibly and quietly as some secrets.

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(FIRST DAYS, from chapter XI, translated by Vesna Podgorac)